Gas tax hike top priority for NJ Assembly this fall
While the debate continues to swirl around Trenton on how best to fund the state's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), talk of using a gas tax hike as a revenue raiser is expected to gain momentum this fall once the Assembly returns from its summer vacation.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville,) chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said his priority will be getting two of his bills on Gov. Chris Christie's desk as soon as possible.
One bill would increase the tax on petroleum products gross receipts from 4 cents per gallon to 9 percent of the average retail price of unleaded regular gasoline. Another measure would constitutionally dedicate that all of the new revenue collected through a gas tax hike be used just to fund the TTF.
The gas tax hike being proposed by Wisniewski would equal about 25 cents a gallon.
"That translates to about 50 cents a day for the average driver in New Jersey. That's $180 a year. That has to be compared by looking at the cost of driving in New Jersey. It has to be compared to the $600-$1,200 a year that some estimate is the cost that people pay to maintain their vehicles because of the poor condition of our infrastructure," Wisniewski said.
The gas tax hike would be on top of the existing 10.5 cent gas tax.
Wisniewski said that under his plan the tax would be adjusted annually based on the rate of inflation. He explained the increase would be a recurring and sustainable source of revenue to replenish the TTF indefinitely. The fund is on pace to run out of money in June 2016.
"You can pay a little now or pay a lot later. That's the choice that New Jerseyans face," Wisniewski said.
Recently, Gov. Chris Christie signed an anti-tax increase pledge with the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. Wisniewski was concerned that would mean a gas tax increase would not happen in New Jersey until after Christie left office, but the pledge was not to hike taxes if elected president.
In the past, Christie has said he is open to discussing all TTF funding options. That sentiment was echoed by Assembly GOP Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) at a recent press conference, but in a phone interview later he said Democrats don't need any support to pass the tax hike bill right now.
"Democrats have 48 votes in the Assembly. They could pass that tax tomorrow and they have a lot of experience because they've passed 115 new taxes since they've been in the majority," Bramnick said.
Democrats also have a majority in the state Senate.